Trayvon Martin is dead and the man who killed him is still in the land of the living as a free man. I am still wrapping my head around this reality. I am proud of our nation for standing up and fighting for justice for Trayvon Martin. Without the public’s initial disgust with no arrest, this trial would have never happened. We would have still been dealing with what ifs. So that I say that is a step in the right direction. Just hard because it does not feel like Trayvon Martin and his family got the justice they so rightly deserved.
My mind always looks at trends or deviations from history. After this verdict I immediately thought of cases from the 1960s such as Medgar Evers and Emmett Till. Both black men killed in the South by white men. Their murder trials were brought before an all white jury who would ultimately fail to return a guilty verdict. These cases happened 50 years ago but I cannot help to see the similarities with Trayvon Martin. We think about how far we have come but moments like this remind us about how far we still have to go as a nation.
As an attorney I hoped and prayed that our justice system could show not just Black America, but also the world that we are no longer the same system of the past but Lady Justice is truly blind in America for once. I cannot say that happened tonight. Hardest thing for me as an attorney is to concede to people that the system does not always work. It does not always put the guilty behind bars and does not always free the innocent. African American men as defendants and victims in this justice system face different realities and are so often those who face the unjust “justice” system.
The NAACP is already calling for the Department of Justice to pursue federal charges. The Federal government could chose to bring charges under civil rights statutes against George Zimmerman and not violate double jeopardy. From the beginning I hoped the Department of Justice would be able to make a case. I just do not think that they will be able to. They need to show that he killed Trayvon Martin simply because he was black. While his reasons for initially following Trayon would leave many of us to believe that, it is a leap in logic to use that to pursue federal charges.
In today’s society, being racist is not the politically correct thing to do. The man who murdered Medgar Evers in 1963, Bryon De La Beckwith was very open about his hatred of African Americans. We do not always see that today. The scariest racist is often the one who you cannot see, the one who does not fully articulate their hatred. They may harbor ill will or truly believe certain stereotypes. In addition, they may act on these beliefs in ways that can be explained away with some legitimate reason such as you just were not qualified for the job as opposed to they did not want to hire a black person. To some degree it is even unconscious for them. This is the racist of today and I think they are even harder to convict under a Civil Rights statute. That is the difficulty I see here. Even now, we do not fully understand George Zimmerman’s thought process that night. He very well could be harboring hatred towards African Americans but he never stated that and more importantly his actions can be explained away by “self-defense” and not purely a hate crime.
Going forward I think the best plan of action for those who want to ensure this never happens again through lobbying within the state of Florida to change some of their laws. With the nation watching you guys have dropped the ball twice, once with Casey Anthony and now George Zimmerman. Time to reexamine some things Florida. First I think self defense should be rolled back to the common law version of self defense that worked just fine forever. Under that, you have the duty to retreat if possible unless you are in your home. You cannot “stand your ground” and essentially have a modern day duel. One of the biggest things that new legislation should highlight is that the initial aggressor cannot then use self defense after creating the situation. Another interesting thing Florida could do,
Florida should also increase the number of members of a jury. Six people is clearly not enough to get a fair cross section of the community. I say clearly because the jury consisted of five white women and one woman who’s race has been debated. She has been described by some as a Hispanic woman or black woman and others as a biracial woman. When you have underlining issues of race I think it is even more important to have a diverse jury. They all bring different experiences in with them to the jury box. The prosecution also dropped the ball on their selection in this case as well but with only six spots there is only so much you can do.